Lata Mangeshkar has always been known as a one-woman industry. I remember the wonderful Dev Anand telling me how erected sets had to be dismantled when she didn’t turn for the recording of songs in time.
“She wasn’t temperamental, not at all.” Dev Saab once told me. “She just wanted to make sure she gave the best of herself to every song she sang. Her logic was simple. ‘For me, it’s just one opportunity to get it right. For thousands of listeners the song will be there for them to judge and evaluate for all times to come.’ No wonder she never compromised and look at the results! Lata is perfection in person!”
There is one incident when she refused to compromise and unknowingly caused eternal damage because of her uncompromised quest for perfection. It was Gulzar Saab’s dream project Meera, his musical interpretation of the great life of Meerabai. Hema Malini was chosen to play the eponymous role while the mighty composing duo Laxmikant-Pyarelal were chosen to score music for Meerabai’s timeless lines. That the Melody Queen was to sing the Meera bhajans goes without saying.
Gulzar Saab who usually worked with R D Burman on his music score chose Laxmikant-Pyarelal for Meera as they were seen more suited to the epic-historical design.
Then something unexpected happened. Lataji refused to sing for Gulzar’s Meera! No matter how much Gulzar Saab pleaded with her, she refused to relent. Hema Malini who had a great rapport with Lataji personally requested the Melody Queen to relent. But nothing could dissuade Lataji.
Recalling the incident Hema Malini says, “It was a big setback to the project when Lataji refused to sing. She had already sung Meera Bhajans for her brother Hridaynath Mangeshkar and she wouldn’t sing them for any other composers, not even for her favourite Laxmikant-Pyarelal.”
When Lataji backed out of Meera, Laxmikant—Pyarelal also opted out.
“What would Meera be without Latabai?” Pyarelal reminisced to me some years ago.
The project then went to the Bharat Ratna sitarist Pandit Ravi Shankar who used the voice of Vani Jairam for Meera.
The music fell flat and so did the film.